Sarah Mlynowski & the All-True Gimme a Call Backstory

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I’ve been friends with Sarah Mlynowski from the start of her writing career, when she was making the transition from Harlequin staffer to full-time novelist, so I was delighted earlier this year to see that her status in the YA market had been given a boost by a flurry of buzz over the #gimmeacall hashtag, as hundreds of readers (and authors) tweeted about what they would say to their younger selves if they could reach back in time and leave that message. Which is, as it happens, the premise of Gimme A Call, her new novel. Sarah is in the midst of a blog tour to promote the book (which you can follow through its Facebook fan page), and here she shares the honest-to-goodness truth about the story’s origins.

I have a secret.

When people ask me where the idea for Gimme a Call came from I make stuff up.

Some background: The story is about Devi Banks, a seventeen-year-old high school senior who accidentally drops her cell phone in a fountain at the mall while wishing she could change her past. After fishing it out, she discovers that the only person she can call is herself—as a high school freshman, at age 14.

“So, Sarah, how did you come up with the idea for Gimme a Call?”

“Well,” I say, smiling at the pretend-memory. “I was writing a new book. And when I say ‘writing,’ I mean staring at my ceiling, desperately trying to figure out how to fix a scene that was not working.” The writers in the audience chuckle and nod knowingly. “And I thought…if only Future Me would e-mail over the finished draft.” Ta da!

What do you think? Would you buy it? Too rehearsed?

What about: “I was flipping through high school photo albums, and the pictures were terrifying. That perm! Those blond highlights! The red lipstick with braces! If only someone had told me what I looked like. If only I could tell my younger self what I looked like. If only I could call my younger self…”

Too obvious.

“Where did I get the idea? Why, I was minding my own business when I got a prank call from someone claiming to be me.” Or maybe “I prank called an ex-boyfriend, pretending to be him in the future.”

Never mind. Don’t want to sound like a nut job.

Oh! Oh! How about: “I was in Central Park, and I dropped my cell phone in the Angel of the Waters Fountain, and when I plucked it out I realized that the only number it would call was my high school self!”

You’re not buying that either, are you?

Sigh.

Here’s the truth. One morning, I was lying in my bed, staring at the ceiling. I had a book due. When I’m supposed to be writing one book, I often spend time trying to come up with other ideas for future books. Since I enjoyed writing paranormal YA with my Magic in Manhattan series, I wanted to come up with another paranormal idea. I’d done witches. What else was there? Ghosts? Too scary. Vampires? Too messy. Time travel? Yes! I’d always been fascinated by the concept of time travel. As a kid, I loved A Wrinkle in Time, Star Trek IV and Back to the Future. And my favorite parts of time travel stories are when the future character meets himself/herself in the past, like when Michael J. Fox saw himself get into the DeLorean. So what if I wrote a book where a girl could talk to her future self? A girl who could talk to her future self via her… cell phone?

There you go. Nothing too magical about it.

But when people ask me where I get the idea for a book, I don’t want to put them to sleep with a boring play-by-play. I want to tell them something punchy. Something with an AHA(!) moment. So I make stuff up. (FYI I’m not the only one—I polled author friends, and many of them do the same thing. I suppose it’s an occupational hazard.) I like my inspiration to sound more…inspired. I want to make it seem like I was struck by lightning.

Oh! That’s a good one! “Where did I get the idea? Well, I was standing in an open field when suddenly it started to rain and thunder and my cell phone got hit by lightning! And then—”

Maybe not.

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14 July 2010 | guest authors |